Monday, September 15, 2008

Elvin Fooled Around And Had A Hit - The Latter Years

Bishop then made a crucial move in his career, when Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band persuaded Phil Walden to sign Bishop to the Capricorn label. Bishop released his first album under his own name with 1974’s ‘Let It Flow’ (US#100), which featured a more country-rock style, very Allman Brothers Band in sound, including the minor hit single ‘Travelin’ Shoes’ (US#61). 1975’s ‘Juke Joint Jump’ (US#46) saw Bishop continue with the country rock motif, with lots of slide guitar and honky tonk piano playing added to the mix. The single ‘Sure Feels Good’ (US#83) continued Bishop’s gradual cross over to mainstream commercial success.

But it would be his next album where Bishop would really hit stride as an artist in his own right. 1976’s ‘Struttin’ My Stuff’ (US#18/OZ#67) saw Bishop doing just that, but with a more middle of the road commercial slant to things. The lead out single was the cruisy R&B tune ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’, and though penned by Elvin Bishop, it was probably one of the least Elvin Bishop like songs he had written to date. The song’s vocals were handled by Mickey Thomas who would go on to join Jefferson Starship in 1978, later to become Starship from 1984, singing on their hits ‘Sara’ and ‘We Built This City’. Thomas’ vocals were a perfect fit for ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’, lyrically another slightly tongue in cheek effort from Bishop, the song peaking at #34 in Britain, #16 in Australia, and rocketing to #3 in the U.S. - by far and a way the biggest commercial hit of Bishop’s career, though the title track ‘Struttin’ My Stuff’ did climb to #68 in the U.S. Just a few months later Bishop released yet another album ‘Hometown Boy Makes Good!’ (US#70), the album’s title and cover a humorous reference to the recent boon in record sales for Bishop. Sadly, aside from another beautifully sung ballad from Mickey Thomas with ‘Spend Some Time’ (US#93 - this time credited to Elvin Bishop Ft. Mickey Thomas), the album was a bit of a spare parts affair, obviously hastily flung together in an attempt to further the momentum established by ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’.

Elvin Bishop’s career lost a considerable amount of that momentum in the remaining years of the 70s, to a degree washed over by the disco, punk and new waves to follow. His live album ‘Raisin’ Hell’ (US#38) in 1977 proved Bishop to still be a formidable stage presence, during this period with singer Mickey Thomas providing most of the vocals. By the time 1978’s ‘Hog Heaven’ was released, Mickey Thomas had left to take up duties with Jefferson Starship, leaving Bishop once again nervously holding the microphone. The result was a return to a more comfortable country blues boy persona for Bishop, though the mercurial voice of Maria Muldaur (‘Midnight At The Oasis’) lent magic to the track ‘True Love’. Following the demise of Capricorn Records and the release of a ‘best of’ collection in 1979, Elvin Bishop all bit disappeared from the music scene.

In 1988 Elvin Bishop made a comeback to the recording scene, signing a new deal with the Alligator label. The album ‘Big Fun’ (1988) was Bishop’s first U.S. release in nearly a decade (in 1981 Bishop had the album ‘Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby’ released in Germany only). In 1989 he made a guest appearance on the Allman Brothers Band album ‘Dreams’. 1991 saw the release of Bishop’s ‘Don’t Let The Bossman Get You Down!’, a mix of Bishop originals and blues standards - it was his most critically acclaimed album in years.

He toured with old pal B.B. King in 1995 and continued to perform and record at regular intervals over the next decade. 1998’s ‘The Skin I’m In’ was acknowledged as Bishop’s most mature album to date, highlighting a musician that was truly comfortable in his own stylistic skin. In 2000 Elvin Bishop reunited with the man who had helped kick start his career all those many years before. It had been forty years since Smokey Smothers took a young Elvin Bishop under his blues guitarist’s wing, and the live album ‘That’s My Partner!’ saw the long time blues compatriots return to their Chicago blues’ roots. Personal tragedy struck Bishop though later in 2000 when his daughter was murdered.

After a five year hiatus, Elvin Bishop once again bounced back with a vengeance on the 2005 album ‘Gettin’ My Groove Back’ (US#9 Top Blues Albums), as much an exercise in catharsis as a return to blues and country roots that form so much a part of Bishop’s musical tapestry. The rollicking good time live set ‘Booty Bumpin: Recorded Live’ proved an appropriate 30 year anniversary marker for Bishop since his commercial high point, proving he’d lost none of his verve and zest as a performer. His most recent studio album is 2008’s ‘Blues Rolls On’, which sees Bishop firmly reengaging with his love of the blues and country boogie. The album’s guest roster includes blues luminaries B.B. King, George Thorogood and James Cotton, and is as much a celebration of Bishop’s music career as anything.

The YouTube clip below features a 2004 performance by Mickey Thomas (the original vocalist) and Starship of the Elvin Bishop hit ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’:

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